Recently I’ve been volunteering with the Greenway Project, a community effort to turn an unused industrial lot in the Mission District with no known owner into a public green space for all, lined with trees and pollinator habitat, growing free food, and serving as an educational resource. The project is overwhelmingly popular with neighbors. Most are surprised to learn the land isn’t private property, since a few adjacent business owners have long fenced it for private parking, doing nothing to steward the land.
Unfortunately, our efforts are strongly opposed by two newcomer businesses that feel entitled to park there for free, indefinitely: the private preschool Mission Kids and the ISP Monkeybrains. This Tuesday, their opposition crossed over into personal insults, harassment, intimidation, threats of violence, and the destruction of two of our garden beds—all over the course of three hours from noon to 3pm.
These businesses know they have no serious legal argument to any rights to the parcel and that the neighbors don’t support their land grab. They’re desperate to hold onto their free parking, so they’re trying to create a toxic environment for our volunteers and visitors so we give up.
For the full story of the land, parcel 36, and the Greenway Project (formerly Mission Greenway), see our project website and:
- 2017: Parcel 36: the lot San Francisco’s county, city and tax collector forgot, Mission Local
- March 2018: The Greenway is born, Greenway Project blog
- October 2022: Guerrilla gardening action on unclaimed Mission parcel draws joy, anger, Mission Local
- November 2022: October action, Greenway Project blog
- January: Tensions mount between guerrilla gardeners and neighboring businesses, Mission Local
- February: Vandalized planters + new neighbor might park trucks on greenway, Greenway Project newsletter
- February: Monkeybrains buys Heinzer warehouse, butts heads with gardeners, Mission Local
- March: Monkeybrains’ falsified building permit to fence off the greenway and our appeal, Greenway Project newsletter
We’re most active on the Greenway every Sunday afternoon, when typically lots of people are there and there’s no drama. This past Saturday we partnered with MAPP on a lovely community event with singing, flowers, and pottery.
But some volunteers come to maintain the garden and grounds almost every day. We’re also trying to create regular public hours during the week when the neighborhood can count on the space being open and come enjoy it. Public schools have reached out to us to bring students as an educational outing. And specifically, this Tuesday we were joined by a young volunteer working towards community service credit at an SF high school.
That’s why I went in at noon, bringing my laptop so I could tether and get some work done as well.
I knew there might be some hostility from the opposing businesses, but figured with several of us there, it would be manageable. I was completely unprepared for the level of escalation. I didn’t end up getting much work done.
Unpermitted construction and a jeer from a window
We were locked out at the Treat Ave gate. We co-operatively daisy chain our lock with one Mission Kids has access to, but they recently stopped returning the favor and began locking us out, including today.
So I entered the parcel from 22nd St, finding the gates open. Immediately I saw an unusually large number of parked vehicles including trucks around Monkeybrains’ warehouse. Another truck drove in past me and parked by the warehouse right after I took this picture. I heard sounds of construction inside, though no permits have been issued:
Ignoring this, I sat down and opened my book to read for a bit while waiting for other volunteers to show up.
I was surprised by a voice behind me calling out, “It’s over, Scott.” I turned around, confused, and a man I’d never seen before was poking his head out the upper-story corner window of the warehouse. He added, “Time to get a job,” and laughed. I asked who he was and started to get my phone out to take a picture, but he ducked inside. I later learned it was Rudy Rucker, owner of Monkeybrains. I went back to my book, but it was hard to focus.
As two other volunteers arrived, I saw a car that seemed to be heading out via the Treat gate and went over there to see if I could make sure it stayed open for our Tuesday afternoon open hours. As the car drove out, I placed myself and my bicycle in the entryway across the path the gate would have to travel to close. The woman who’d opened the gate, who was later identified to me as Mission Kids’ co-director Christina Maluenda Marchiel, explained that she was trying to close the gate. I told Christina we are working to maintain the garden every day and need access. She said we could get access via the 22nd St gate, which was open. I said we like to have it open on both sides. She said, “OK,” and we stood there looking at each other smiling and saying nothing for a while. She started texting and then walked away in silence and entered the school. I sat down.
Soon after, Christina and the other co-director of Mission Kids, Heather Lubeck, came back over and closed the gate again, locking us in. Heather came over to confront us. She told us because we were “strangers,” we couldn’t be there while the school is in session, and some crazy story about there having been a shooting (we’re not aware of any such incident on or around the parcel), and finally demanded we “leave this property.” As soon as I started recording video, however, Heather immediately stopped talking, looked down, and walked away. The only further thing she said was after my fellow volunteer narrated, “This woman’s been policing the parcel. She doesn’t own this parcel,” Heather cut in with, “And neither do you” before continuing to walk away.
Our high schooler volunteer was there in the middle of all of this. They knew it was a contentious, political project, but we apologized for the rude introduction. This was already a lot more than any of us were expecting but it was about to get worse.
Monkeybrains owner yells at us
I was writing a social media post about the harassment that had happened so far when the Monkeybrains owner Rudy Rucker walked over to yell at me again, now from the other side of the Treat Ave fence. He told us to “stop fucking with Mission Kids” (yes, he used that colorful language next to a preschool). At this point I only knew he was the same person who’d yelled at me from the window. He again called me Scott several times, but still wouldn’t tell me his name, saying only “I’m the owner of the warehouse.” I started recording which resulted in this:
Me: You’re in a public space. [Just as I hit record, Rudy said he didn’t consent to being recorded, which is not legally required when someone is in a public space.]
Rudy: You’re trespassing [inaudible], get out of here.
He begins to walk away, then turns back and points at the camera.
Rudy: This man Scott who’s filming me was confronting the, uh, local… preschoolers… and being a jackass.
Mission Kids director’s husband threatens us
Moments after this, another man drove up and, out of nowhere, demanded to know who touched his wife. We all told him we had no idea who he was, who his wife was, or what incident he was referring to. He said that one of us had touched his wife, and that crossed a line, and when he found out who it was, he was going to put a stop to it. He was kind of all over the place, saying the cops were on their way, but also motioning for me to come out and fight him, and finally saying he was going to wait as long as it took for the gate to be opened (recall that we were locked in by Mission Kids and didn’t have a key, which we told him), and he would kick our asses and he could take all three of us.
After I took out my phone, he, too, stopped talking, but stood hovering at the fence, staring at us. We moved seats to a different location in the garden to get further away from him and went back to carrying on our conversation. Or tried to. I tried to keep calm, but was shaken knowing that Brian might follow through on his violent threat. Eventually he disappeared into Mission Kids and emerged holding a sandwich, which he ate, looking satisfied. Then he returned to standing at the fence menacingly.
Finally, about an hour after the man arrived, police officers did show up at the fence. A fellow volunteer went and explained the situation to them. The man turned out to be Brian Marchiel, the husband of Christina Maluenda Marchiel, the Mission Kids co-director who had tried to close the gate on me. He told an embellished version of that incident with a false detail in which I had touched Christina, which wouldn’t have made any sense. Based on that, he tried to get the officers to press charges against me for battery. The officers didn’t appear to take the allegation very seriously, especially after Brian admitted the school didn’t own parcel 36 and my fellow volunteer explained the situation and Mission Kids’ history of harassing us. In fact, an officer told us that because Mission Kids doesn’t own parcel 36, their putting locks on the gate is illegal.
Garden beds vandalized
At this point I was desperate to use a restroom. Normally, we can just go across the street to the public restroom at Parque Niños Unidos, but because Mission Kids locked us in on the Treat side, and because I didn’t want us to split up given all the threats and harassment, it wasn’t that simple. So, unfortunately, I left along with two of the three remaining volunteers/visitors, leaving one talking to the officer and cleaning up.
As they walked out a few minutes later, that volunteer noticed the overturned garden beds and took the photo that opens this post, above. I don’t know for sure who committed that act of vandalism, but given the timing and the threats that were made, I believe it was Rudy, Brian, or someone else connected to Mission Kids and/or Monkeybrains. Whoever did it also ripped out the seedlings in several other garden beds, all on the 22nd St side of the parcel.
Monkeybrains has a history of moving the two beds that were overturned. Originally sited near the 22nd St gate, in the first week after Monkeybrains bought the Heinzer warehouse in February, they moved them to the middle of the parcel. Recently, volunteers moved one of them back to its intended spot near 22nd St and Harrison, seen above. We found it moved back to the middle of the parcel the next day, where it stood until it was destroyed.
Besides the destruction of the planter bed itself, the mint, oregano, and strawberries that were growing in those beds could have fed Mission District neighbors. They were still seedlings, but we’ve already given away other Greenway-grown food at the Free Farm Stand on Sundays. It’s the undoing of months of caring work by volunteers trying to improve their neighborhood and create a green space for all.
All that, because Mission Kids and Monkeybrains want free parking on land that’s not theirs.
Legitimate businesses don’t do any of this. When a legitimate business needs parking, it pays for a location that has parking, rather than trying to destroy community gardens.
How to help
If this motivates you to help us build back, we’d love your help. As I said up top, these businesses are doing this because they’re desperate. They know they have no serious legal case to any rights to parcel 36, and they know neighbors prefer a public green space, not a private parking lot. Their last resort is to harass, intimidate, and threaten and hope they make it so toxic that our volunteers will burn out.
On the Friends of the Mission Greenway website, you can subscribe to our newsletter, sign our petition, and find out about free events. We are also inviting neighbors to send comments in support of our appeal of another Monkeybrains scheme—a fraudulent building permit that would allow Monkeybrains to build an iron gate to keep us out of the Greenway, which was issued even though they don’t own the property.
You can come to the Greenway on any Sunday afternoon, when volunteers are around, and help out with gardening or other things if you want or just socialize. If you’re in the neighborhood and have a flexible schedule and are not too conflict-averse, we could also really use more people during weekday events/work times just to be in the space and observe anything that happens. The afternoon of harassment I describe would probably have been much less eventful if we’d had 10 or 20 neighbors there with us versus 2 to 5 people.
I also hope you’ll share this story with people you know who have a connection to Mission Kids or Monkeybrains. A lot of neighbors use Monkeybrains as their ISP because they want to support a local business that seems cool. I did: I’m an 8-year customer and recommended them until recently. And I can’t imagine Mission Kids preschool parents would feel reassured to know that the preschool director’s spouse comes in trying to start fights next door while school is in session. These actions are outrageous and I hope publishing them brings some pressure on these businesses to stop behaving so badly.